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House of Commons

Monday 19 October 1992

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Local Government Reform

1. Mr. Jon Owen Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he intends to make clear his detailed plans for local government reform.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hunt) : May I start by welcoming the hon. Members for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) and for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) to their new positions on the Opposition Front Bench. The answer to Question 1 is as soon as possible.

Mr. Jones : Why is it that the Prime Minister spent part of the weekend discussing subsidiarity with the rest of the European Governments yet when there is an opportunity to put subsidiarity into effect through local government reform in Wales the Government do not take it?

Mr. Hunt : The local government reform that we are pursuing in Wales is as a result of a combined agreement at the outset between the counties and the districts that there should be unitary authorities in Wales. I recognise that there is also strong feeling, which has been expressed to me by the local authority associations, that there should be an assembly in Wales. But I say to the hon. Gentleman and all those who propose such an assembly that we have been through all that before. The people of Wales rejected an assembly by a majority of four to one.

Mr. Rod Richards : In his consultation paper the Secretary of State said that he sought consensus. Has he received a submission from the Labour party?

Mr. Hunt : Although we have had the most widespread consultation, I have to tell the House that I am still waiting to hear from the Labour party about what it would propose on local government reform. A manifesto published at the time of the last election says : "We will create"--

this is a Labour Government--

"a single tier of 25 to 30 unitary local authorities."

I understand that the previous figure was 17 to 25. I hope that the Labour party will make up its mind and tell me what its plans are so that I can take them into account in the consultation.

Mr. Murphy : The Secretary of State still has not told the House or the people of Wales whether there will be local government reform according to the timetable which he has already outlined. Does he have Treasury approval

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for the local government plans? There are some estimates that it will cost as much as £50 million. If that is the case, can he today give us a guarantee that there will be no adverse effects on the spending proposals for Wales that he intends to make in the next few weeks?

Mr. Hunt : I reaffirm the statement that I made in the House on 3 March in which I proposed the creation of 23 unitary authorities in Wales. I reaffirm the timetable that I announced then. The new unitary authorities will be operational as from 1995. I say to the hon. Gentleman again that there is still time for the Labour party to make detailed proposals rather than merely throw out figures of 25 to 30. The preliminary signs are that if we moved in the direction proposed in the Labour party's manifesto, there would be costs over and above those of my present proposals. Will the hon. Gentleman please make up his mind and tell us his and his party's plans?

Homeless People

2. Mr. Martyn Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement about the number of homeless people in (a) Wales and (b) Clwyd, South-West.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Gwilym Jones) : In the quarter April to June 1992, 5,919 people were accepted as homeless by local councils in Wales. However, specific figures are not available for Clwyd, South-West.

Mr. Martyn Jones : In the light of the appalling situation shown up by the national figures, is the Minister aware of the proposals contained in a consultation paper issued by Tai Cymru which, if implemented, would take away the powers of Welsh rural housing associations to deal with rural homelessness, by giving the powers to urban bodies? There would be only 10 such bodies and they would be based in urban areas so it is likely that they would not be able to deal with rural homelessness.

Mr. Gwilym Jones : The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the important work of Tai Cymru and the housing association movement in Wales. They have been an example of tremendous success and I want to see that going forward. The consultation process is ongoing. I and Tai Cymru are maintaining an open mind about exactly how it can be taken forward.

Heart Disease

3. Mr. Simon Coombs : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what was the incidence of coronary heart disease in Wales in 1980 ; and what was the equivalent figure in the latest year for which statistics are available.

Mr. Gwilym Jones : Information on the incidence of coronary heart disease in Wales is not available centrally. However, there were 9, 706 deaths of Welsh residents from coronary heart disease in 1980--345 deaths per 100,000 population--compared with 9,541 deaths in 1991, a decline to 331 per 100,000 population.

Mr. Coombs : The figures are encouraging. I am sure that the House would want to congratulate Heartbeat Wales on its campaign and on reducing the numbers of people suffering from premature coronary heart disease in

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Wales. Can my hon. Friend tell the House what more he thinks can be done to reduce the figures still further, because they remain a cause for some concern?

Mr. Jones : I wish to accept my hon. Friend's congratulations on behalf of Heartbeat Wales and the health promotion authority for Wales. They have begun their work well and there are already encouraging signs of a reduction in smoking among adults. We are taking forward the possibility of other measures, including opportunist testing for cholesterol.

Dr. Kim Howells : The Minister will know that a general reduction in the level of blood pressure tends to reduce the incidence of heart disease quite dramatically. Can he tell me why the good work of Heartbeat Wales and general practitioners everywhere in Wales has been so massively undermined in the past week by the stupid and inept handling of the coal crisis? Does he not know that that has sent the blood pressure of Wales sky high? What is he going to do about it?

Mr. Jones : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should adopt his own advice and not raise his blood pressure unnecessarily, when we can all do better with rational discussion.

Labour Statistics

4. Mr. Roy Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what was the figure and percentage of male unemployment in Wales at the latest available date.

Mr. David Hunt : A total of 102,200 and 13.5 per cent.

Mr. Hughes : Does the Secretary of State recall telling the recent Conservative party conference that it has been a good year for the party? Although I appreciate that his colleagues do not tell him much these days, may I remind him of the mass unemployment, record bankruptcies, escalating repossessions, the debacle over the exchange rate mechanism, the troubles over Maastricht and the crisis in the mining industry? If this is a good year, will the Secretary of State outline what constitutes a bad one?

Mr. Hunt : The hon. Gentleman should think carefully before he downplays our achievements in Wales, where thousands of new jobs have come to declining coal mining areas. By our positive partnership in Wales we have shown the rest of the United Kingdom what can be done to bring new investment and jobs to those parts of Wales.

Mr. Roger Evans : Can my right hon. Friend assist us by saying what new initiatives he has in mind for economic development in Wales?

Mr. Hunt : I am happy to announce that I am issuing a consultation paper on the establishment of the Welsh economic council, because I am determined to build on the positive partnership that we have in Wales, which has brought us those new jobs and investment.

Madam Speaker : Question No. 5--

Mr. Rowlands : On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker : I would normally take points of order at the end of questions but if I have breached our Standing Orders I must listen now.

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Mr. Rowlands : Question No. 4 was on male unemployment. They are closing pits in my constituency

Madam Speaker : Order. I am genuinely interested if I have breached Standing Orders. I have not done so. I shall call the hon. Gentleman as soon as I can on some other occasion.

Mrs. Clwyd : May we tell the Secretary of State exactly what his achievements have been since he became Secretary of State. Unemployment has increased by 46,500. That is his achievement and every one of us feels that he-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Lady is responding on Question 4. As a Front-Bench Member she is perfectly entitled to do so. If the hon. Gentleman on the Back Benches has anything further to say, perhaps he will see me after Question Time.

Mrs. Clwyd : In case the Secretary of State missed the point, I said that since he became Secretary of State for Wales his achievement is 46,500 people unemployed in Wales. We all feel that his answers are totally unconvincing. It is clear that he was never told, never consulted and never informed about job losses in the coal industry. Does he realise that Welsh people are fed up with having no clout and no voice in the Cabinet? Surely any self-respecting Minister who has been treated like a tea boy outside the board room door should resign, particularly when the Government have shown how incompetent they are, how many lies they have told, and how bankrupt they are. It is time for them to give up and for the Minister to resign.

Madam Speaker : Order. That was somewhat remiss of the hon. Lady-- [Interruption.] Order. I am sure that the hon. Lady would not want to leave that impression in the Official Report. Would she like to rephrase it?

Mrs. Clwyd : How misleading the Minister's tenure as Secretary of State has been if he claims that he has reduced unemployment. He certainly has not. He has increased it by 46,500 since he came into office. Let him explain that.

Mr. Hunt : The hon. Lady has made a number of accusations, one of which was that I was in ignorance. If blissful ignorance were a reason for resignation, there would not be many hon. Members on the Opposition Benches. Unemployment in Wales has fallen from just under 180,000 in 1986 to just under 130,000 today. Furthermore, I am pleased to be able to announce today an investment package involving a further £10 million of Government regional assistance, bringing 1, 300 new jobs to Wales and safeguarding 500 other jobs. Government investment for regional assistance this year has meant that we have already made offers totalling £50 million, and more than 9,000 new and safeguarded jobs are forecast. That is action on the Government's part and we intend to bring new jobs to Wales.

Mr. Rowlands : On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker : Order. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat now. We must now move to Question 5.

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Hospital Trusts

5. Mr. Gareth Wardell : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what formal mechanism he will use to monitor hospital trusts in Wales.

Mr. Gwilym Jones : As well as monitoring activity and performance by district health authorities and GP fund holders, Welsh Office monitoring of NHS trusts will be centred around the business plans which all new trusts are required to produce each year. That will be in addition to the accountability to the public. New trusts are expected to hold an annual general meeting, produce an annual report and publish audited accounts.

Mr. Wardell : As someone who is extremely dissatisfied with the lack of proper monitoring of hospital trusts that the Minister has just announced, may I ask what he will do to ensure that early-warning signs are in place if those trusts get into financial difficulty? When they do, will he pick up the tab if they are in debt?

Mr. Jones : Officials in the Welsh Office are already considering how best to monitor the business plans. I envisage that to be an ongoing process so that it can work as helpfully as possible.

Mr. Conway : Is my hon. Friend aware of the large number of patients from mid and north Wales who use the excellent facilities supplied at the ear, nose and throat hospital in Shrewsbury? Will he ensure that, when monitoring the position, he also keeps a weather eye on what is happening on the other side of the border? If the suggested plans are carried out to move that hospital to the east, it would not only inconvenience a great number of my constituents in Shrewsbury, but greatly inconvenience patients from mid and north Wales who use the hospital's excellent facilities.

Mr. Jones : Yes, I am aware of the position. My hon. Friend is right to raise that important matter, which I trust will be fully taken into consideration.

Mr. Morgan : The Government's favourite theme song at the moment is, "I'm in the mood for U-turns"--do U-turns also apply to the formation of national health service trusts? I should like to know that before the Government continue with the disastrous policy in Wales where, so far, there is fortunately only one trust hospital. The Government now insist on creating a split between the purchaser and the provider, while the electricity industry is confusing the role of purchaser and provider. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Government's hallmark has been first, meddling, then bungling, and finally--I hope that this will be confirmed later today--backtracking?

Mr. Jones : The hon. Gentleman must curb his impatience to hear about the further progress that I hope we shall make. Meanwhile, I assure him that all the representations received will be fully considered in the evaluation of NHS trust applications. No trust applications will be approved unless my right hon. Friend and I are convinced that they will mean an improvement for patients.

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Hospital Provision

6. Mr. Richards : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales when he next plans to visit Clwyd to discuss hospital provision ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Gwilym Jones : My right hon. Friend has no plans to do so at present, but I am hoping to visit Ysbyty Glan Clwyd next month.

Mr. Richards : Is my hon. Friend aware that Ysbyty Glan Clwyd is one of the best hospitals in the land? When he visits it will he bear in mind that the workers, doctors and residents in the hospital's vicinity eagerly await his decision on the formation of a trust for the Glan Clwyd group of hospitals?

Mr. Jones : It would be invidious for me to agree with my hon. Friend that that hospital is the best, but I agree that it is one of Wales's very fine hospitals. Our decision on that application will be announced as soon as possible. I know that my hon. Friend looks forward to that announcement with interest.

Mr. Hanson : When the Secretary of State visits Clwyd will he consider the fact that, on 9 April, four of the five Labour Members of Parliament elected in those constituencies proposed a programme opposing opt-out hospitals? We want to oppose the opting out of hospitals in Clwyd. When the Secretary of State is in my county will he come to visit the Point of Ayr colliery in my constituency, which is closing with 1,000 job losses? Will he gain from the lessons to be learnt from meeting the mineworkers and their families, and will he learn from me that health does not just involve hospitals, but is about prevention, unemployment and other factors that matter to people--which the Government are taking away from them?

Mr. Jones : I am looking forward to visiting Clwyd next month when I shall visit Ysbyty Glan Clwyd. I assure the hon. Gentleman that his and every other representation on new trusts will be carefully considered. I can do no better than repeat the assurance that I have already made : no approvals will be given unless my right hon. Friend and I are convinced that they will be of advantage to patients.

Mr. John Marshall : When my hon. Friend speaks of hospital provision, will he confirm that NHS hospital trusts now treat many more patients than they did 18 months ago? Is that not a sign of progress and should we not praise the work of the trusts instead of denigrating it?

Mr. Jones : I could not agree more with my hon. Friend's sentiments. There is only one example of a trust in Wales, the Pembrokeshire trust. After its first four months, the Pembrokeshire trust is already showing worthwhile increases of both in-patients and out-patients. Such progress should be hailed.

Mrs. Clwyd : In making hospital provision, does the Welsh Office recognise the link between unemployment and ill health? Is the hon. Gentleman going to make provision for the massive number of unemployed who will come on stream in Wales due to Government policies? Does he recognise that 25 per cent. of the Rhondda's population is permanently sick--three times the number of permanently sick in the Prime Minister's constituency of Huntingdon? Does the hon. Gentleman recognise what

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unemployment does both to the unemployed and to their families, and how it causes ill health among those families? Will he recognise that important fact and make provision for it?

Mr. Jones : I can reassure the hon. Lady that that provision is already in place in the strategies for health that we are implementing well in Wales. The importance of trying to make health gains among vulnerable groups is already identified as a specific target on which we are determined to make progress.


7. Mr. Dafis : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how much is currently allocated by his Department to road and rail infrastructure projects within (a) Ceredigion and (b) Pembrokeshire ; and if he will publish an estimated figure for infrastructure expenditure by his Department in Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire for 1993-94.

The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts) : In 1992-93 some £10.5 million is directly allocated to road projects in Dyfed. Additional expenditure is incurred by local authorities using credit approvals and revenue support grant provided by the Welsh Office. Expenditure decisions for 1993-94 will be announced following the public expenditure survey. Expenditure figures are not available by district. Government funding of British Rail does not come through the Welsh Office.

Mr. Dafis : May I remind the Minister of the importance of upgrading the A40 as a way of enhancing, among other things, the role of Fishguard as the gateway to the Republic of Ireland? Will the Welsh Office and the Minister support EC proposals for such an upgrading, which does not involve driving a motorway through a national park and which is a distortion of the situation? Will the Welsh Office commit funds to this upgrading, and will it ask for EC funds for the same proposal?

Sir Wyn Roberts : I am glad to tell the hon. Gentleman that I agree about the importance of the A40. Since 1979, we have spent more than £90 million on the A40 and on the A477 in Dyfed ; and almost £80 million has been spent on the M4 in that area. Furthermore, I am happy to tell him that about nine major trunk road schemes costing £81 million are programmed in Dyfed. Six of those schemes are on the A40 ; one is on the A477 and others are on the A483 and the A487. Of course we shall consider any proposals from the European Commission for improving communications, but, as I have already said, we do not approve of motorways being built through national parks.

Mr. Donald Anderson : Will the Minister give a clear undertaking that the pre-election promises on infrastructure expenditure in Wales will not be cut in the current spending round?

Sir Wyn Roberts : I cannot, alas, give the hon. Gentleman any such assurance. No Minister would ever give such an assurance in advance of the public expenditure survey round. I am sure that he will appreciate that there is going to be a very difficult PES round, but we shall of course try to adhere to our priorities.

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8. Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received on the effect of EC directives on small abattoirs in Wales.

Mr. David Hunt : Several.

Mr. Jones : The Secretary of State will be aware of the excellent news for Anglesey in the form of the opening of the Gaerwen meat plant. I congratulate the farming unions, the local authorities, the Welsh Development Agency and others who have worked so hard to reopen it.

The Secretary of State is aware that the main concern for small abattoirs has been the introduction of hygiene regulations by the European Community, which could lead to small abattoirs facing bills from veterinary surgeons of up to £40 an hour. That would virtually destroy the small abattoir industry in Wales, so can he assure us that small abattoirs will be exempt from the charges so that they can continue their excellent work?

Mr. Hunt : I am rather disappointed that the hon. Gentleman left out the Welsh Office from the list of those to whom he paid tribute. I am very pleased indeed that the £5 million investment by McIntosh Reynolds will go ahead, creating 230 jobs. I pay tribute to the officials in my office who, with all the agencies and local authorities that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, have been working extremely hard to make sure that the project goes ahead. I am sure that it was just an oversight on the hon. Gentleman's part. I recognise that supervision by official veterinarians is a requirement of the directive. There may well be an increase in cost for the industry, but we have written to local authorities encouraging them to take practical measures to keep those costs down. I shall bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's point.

Learning Difficulties

9. Mr. Michael : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has to improve the status of children and adults with learning difficulties--mental handicap--in Wales ; and if he will widen the scope of educational training and employment opportunities available to them.

Sir Wyn Roberts : Our unique and successful mental handicap strategy has provided the impetus to enable people with learning difficulties to share the same opportunities and status as other members of the community.

Mr. Michael : Does the Minister recognise that there is a dearth of day care opportunities for adults with learning difficulties? Against that background, the shortage of education and training opportunities and, above all, of job opportunities for adults with learning difficulties is a major problem for those people and for their carers. Will the Minister undertake to hold a proper inquiry into that matter and make specific proposals for adequate services?

Sir Wyn Roberts : I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that this year's strategy, involving the spending of about £41.5 million, will be relaunched next year. When that happens, there will be increased emphasis on education as a core service and a clear focus on the important period of adolescence. I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's considerable interest in the South Glamorgan training and

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enterprise council's Track 2000 scheme. He will know that the local TEC funds 35 places under that scheme. Every effort is being made to cater for those with special needs who are eligible for help under the employment action programme. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall keep a careful eye on the situation.

Housing Statistics

11. Mr. Jonathan Evans : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what are the latest figures for housing starts and completions undertaken by Housing for Wales/Tai Cymru.

Mr. Gwilym Jones : I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that Housing for Wales is on course to a record of more than 4,000 completions this year.

Mr. Evans : I congratulate my former colleagues in Housing for Wales and the Welsh housing associations on that splendid achievement. Among my hon. Friends and, I think, throughout Wales, there is recognition of the importance of maintaining investment in our housing associations in the years ahead. During the election, there were questions about whether those commitments would be met. I ask my hon. Friend to note, please, that the success that he has reported today must be maintained in the years ahead through the Government maintaining their investment.

Mr. Jones : I hear what my hon. Friend says. Our arrangements have been successful at levering in outside sectors. I know that he will understand when I say that I cannot anticipate the public expenditure round.

Dr. Marek : The Minister knows that, for many years, councils have been selling council houses in Wales and that they have hundreds of millions of pounds which he and the Welsh Office stop them spending on the building of further council houses. It would be a help in getting rid of the present recession if the hon. Gentleman allowed local authorities to spend that money on building more housing in Wales. Why will he not do that?

Mr. Jones : I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has got his figures wrong. At the start of this financial year, local councils had £32.7 million of capital receipts, which they are encouraged to use. Over and above that, after allowing for all redemptions, the housing revenue accounts of Welsh local councils mean that local people are having to repay a net debt of almost £1 billion.


12. Mr. Knox : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what has been the total spending by central Government on roads in Wales since 1979 ; and how many miles of motorway and trunk roads have been laid since that year.

Sir Wyn Roberts : Since 1979, total net spending by central Government on the roads programme in Wales is over £2 billion, including £397 million transport grant. Twenty-two miles of motorway and more than 151 miles of trunk road have been completed. Seven schemes totalling almost 17 miles are under construction.

Mr. Knox : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the level of road building in Wales since he became a Minister

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more than 13 years ago. Does he agree that the road building programme has been a considerable help in attracting inward investment to Wales?

Sir Wyn Roberts : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his congratulations to the Welsh Office and to me on this extensive road programme, which has undoubtedly been of considerable assistance in attracting inward investment. It is as well to remind the House that last year we had a record year for inward investment and attracted 208 projects, costing £1.1 billion in terms of investment and creating or safeguarding some 16,779 jobs. This year, between January and September, we attracted 159 projects, costing £816 million and creating or safeguarding 11,069 jobs. Today, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced 17 projects, creating 1,300 jobs and safeguarding 500 more.

Mr. Hain : Does the Minister recall that, last year, he gave the House the commitment that he would proceed with the construction of the missing link of the A465 between Aberdulais and Glynneath in this financial year, if possible? There is still no sign of that work starting. Therefore, may I have an absolute assurance that that project will not fall victim to the autumn statement next month if it slips over into next year?

Sir Wyn Roberts : I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that we continue to attach considerable importance to the scheme and are spending nearly £3 million this year on advance works. A start on the main works will be made when resources permit.

Labour Statistics

13. Mr. Wigley : To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what are the latest employment figures for Wales ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. David Hunt : In June 1992, according to the latest available figure, the civilian work force in employment in Wales numbered 1,146,000. We are lucky in Wales to have a good positive partnership, and I very much hope that the Welsh economic council, whose establishment I announced today, will build on that. I am happy to tell the House that I shall want the council to address the following issues : first, the need to continue to train a highly skilled work force ; secondly, the need to keep Wales at the top of the inward investment league table ; thirdly, support for small businesses ; fourthly, creation of an enterprise culture ; fifthly, enhanced use of local suppliers ; sixthly, an export drive for Wales ; seventhly, diversification and expansion of our economy ; and, finally, the need to expand our high technology sector and establish further centres for research and development.

Mr. Wigley : We have just had a statement that should have been made on the Floor of the House so that Members of Parliament could ask questions. Interestingly, there was no reference to the need to raise per capita incomes in Wales, which have dropped dramatically in the past 10 years. Is the Secretary of State aware of the devastation felt in Wales as established factories shed labour and small companies go bankrupt, to which must be added the pit closures of the past week? Does he realise that it is not just a question whether the messenger forgot to reach him with a message about the closures? It is a question of why he was not involved in the decisions being

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taken on these vital matters. How can the right hon. Gentleman continue in that job when his fellow Cabinet Ministers have so little confidence in him?

Mr. Hunt : The hon. Gentleman criticises me for making a statement but I must refer him to his question :

"To ask the Secretary of State for Wales, what are the latest employment figures for Wales ; and if he will make a statement." At nationalisation, Wales had 220 pits and the coal industry employed 123,000 people. Before last week's announcement we were down to two pits-- [Hon. Members :-- "Oh!"]. Before the announcement on 20 August, we were down to two pits employing just over 1,000 people. The answer is that Wales is not to be pessimistic about the future but must go out and get new jobs. The new jobs that have come to Wales mean that overall unemployment in Wales has fallen below the United Kingdom average this year for the first time since 1924. The hon. Gentleman should be applauding that--not talking down our achievements.

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